Explore Africa – Now’s the time.
By Travel Manuel
So I’m definitely an advocate of my home country South Africa; what with its diverse terrain, cuisine you’ll never forget and vibrant cultures that get under your skin − what’s not to love? But now that I’ve finally crossed the border into other Southern African countries, I wonder what took me so long? I’m no African travel expert. I still have some ways to go to fill my passport with as many African nations as European or Asian ones. But I’ve decided that next year will be my year of seeing more of Africa. Here’s why and how you should do the same:
1. Hello vibrant continent!
Africa is a continent filled with 54 countries, each with their own cultures, languages, landscape and cities. So speaking of Africa in general terms (as with any continent) is dangerous because each country is so vastly different from the next. Long gone are the days when pioneering explorers were the only people to plunge into ‘deepest, darkest Africa’ on missions. Now most countries are thriving in some shape or form, and have so much to offer travellers. Whilst safaris and game viewing are still one of the main reasons many people travel through Africa, please don’t go to every city or region expecting only bushveld, rural living and game. Many cities offer vibrant nightlife, serve as economic hubs, and have everything many global cities would, with their own flair.
To me, the beauty and strength of this continent has always been with its people and our land. Depending on where you go, community, hospitality and warmth are very much a part of the way people go about their lives. One thing I always notice when travelling to other parts of the world is that I immediately miss the warmth and Ubuntu (I am what I am because of who we all are) of South Africa’s people.
In many South African cultures, we don’t live entirely individualistic lives but rely on each other in some way or another. We smile easily, give freely and love introducing others to our land in the hopes that they will love it as much as we do. In my brief travels in Southern Africa, I’ve ventured from dry savannah and bushveld teeming with wildlife to vibrant cities, old-world Heritage cities that still serve as trading ports and coastal seaside towns rich with marine life and great waves.
Here are a few tips for planning your travels to African countries:
Even if you’re going on a business trip, do your research. As with any continent, you’ll want to have some prior knowledge of the languages spoken, the way to conduct yourself in formal/informal settings and what is acceptable in terms of dress conduct and etiquette etc.
Thankfully South Africans don’t require a visa for many African nations (for once, we win!) or we can obtain a visa upon arrival subject to payment. It’s always best to research which visa you require with your own passport and plan ahead. With all passports, yours should always be valid for 6 months after travel and have enough blank pages for all the visas you will require. If you get a visa on arrival, I always find it best to have the cash on hand for the visa amount (in the country’s currency or US Dollars) in case your card doesn’t work at an ATM or if the debit card machines are offline.
3. Vaccinations and Medication
With travel to any continent, it’s always best to consult a travel clinic in your own country a month or so before leaving. Some countries may require a yellow-fever vaccination or a waiver certificate stating that you don’t require one. Others may require malaria prophylaxis to be taken a few days before, during and after your visit.
It’s helpful to let your doctor/travel clinic know exactly which region of a country you will be visiting and for how long; as some parts carry a high malaria risk, while other parts are quite low-risk and almost non-existent in cities. If you’re staying a little longer on a business trip and are unlikely to go ‘off the grid’, basic precautions such as a mosquito net, coils (often provided by hotels) and mosquito repellent should serve as adequate bite prevention − but always consult a local travel clinic first.
4. Bring a bit of leisure into a business trip.
Why travel all the way to an incredible country like Tanzania, Zambia or Namibia without being able to witness some of the mind-blowing natural wonders nearby? With a few budget airlines carriers such as Fastjet, places like Victoria Falls and Zanzibar are only short flights away from main cities like Dar es Salaam and Harare. When planning a business trip, check if you can add a day or two to your itinerary to acclimatise, do some sight-seeing and visit a city beyond the boardroom. Tropical islands, desert wonderlands and giant waterfalls await.
5. Digital Detox vs. On the Grid Destinations
While working, it only makes sense that you’ll require a speedy Wi-Fi connection. But if you’re keen on indulging in some off-the-grid time, check ahead with your hotel. The beauty of some places and wilderness areas really lies in their lack of Wi-Fi. You get to sip G&Ts by the pool while watching elephants at their watering hole, without having to worry about updating social media. Or perhaps you want to get in some island time but still need to stay in touch, your hotel can let you know which facilities they have so you can plan ahead.
6. Crossing Borders and Safety
If you have tons of time on your side (lucky you), and will be travelling slowly to various countries instead of flying, this will require a lot more preparation and planning. It’s always best to chat to people who have done it before and crossed the same borders that you’re hoping to, to get sound, recent advice. Often travel bloggers are the best to ask as they give their honest opinion and offer helpful up-to-date tips on overlanding.
Aside from one or two countries where your safety is not always guaranteed due to the political climate, most countries in Africa are safe. With every continent you visit, precautions always need to be taken to ensure you stay safe. Never travel alone (when embarking on long, overland trips). Let others know where you’re going and when you hope to be back in cellphone reception. Travel in groups if you’re overlanding in 4×4 territory. And carry everything you’ll need between cities (water, tents, light, matches, solar powered equipment, food and a satellite phone for emergencies).
There are so many incredible countries to explore in Africa. Why wait?
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